We’ve recently written several posts discussing reusable and environmentally friendly dinnerware and takeout containers. We would be remiss not to explain the benefits and challenges of using disposables.

Disposable dinnerware and takeout containers are necessary for many foodservice applications. When used responsibly, and when businesses choose what’s right for them, they are effective, cost-saving, and, yes, even environmentally sustainable.

Here are the clear benefits of using disposable plastic dinnerware and containers:

  • Convenient
  • Affordable
  • No cleanup
  • Saves labor
  • Reduces water use and waste
  • Improves sanitation
  • Keeps products hot or cold

Without washing being necessary, businesses save on water costs and the expenses of dishwasher use and installation. Without a dishwasher, sanitation is never 100% guaranteed. Even foodservice applications with three-compartment sanitizing sinks take the risk of human error.

Dinex Salad Bowl

Without using reusables, foodservice operations can toss dinnerware that customers have handled. In that way, it improves sanitation. It prevents germs and illnesses from being passed on to the next customer who uses the dish because they won’t be using it. It will be in the trash.

Some customers are squeamish about the idea of throwing plastics away. This is largely due to the idea that all plastics are sitting in landfills, never to degrade and harming the earth. While it is true that some disposable foodservice products like Styrofoam don’t rot, it is wrong to assume all plastics are the same.

Plastic containers are made from polycarbonate, polyethylene, polypropylene, and styrene-acrylonitrile (SAN). Some of these are recyclable and biodegradable.

Here are considerations when choosing plastic containers:

 

Polycarbonate

Most durable

Not microwavable due to BPA

Clearest providing visibility

Recyclable

 

Polyethylene

Least expensive

Microwavable

BPA free

Not see-thru

Polypropylene

Great for temperature retention

Microwave safe

BPA free

Safe for use in freezers

Recyclable

Styrene Acrylonitrile (SAN)

Durable

Microwave safe

BPA free

Clear for visibility

 

Note that some polycarbonate containers are engineered to be BPA-free. These would traditionally be considered microwave safe. Be sure to read the instructions and specifications from manufacturers before microwaving any plastic containers.

There are disposable containers made from other materials besides plastic.

Foam containers are ideal for delivery because they handle cold and warm foods. Their lightweight design makes them easy to transport from the kitchen to customers. Most foam containers are stackable for improved storage. They often have perforated lids for secure closure and simple opening.

Foil containers are useful for restaurants that serve heavier foods. They also handle heat and cold well but should not be placed in a microwave. This can cause fires. They can be baked so feel free to place them in an oven to cook, hold, or finish items.

Paper containers are most often seen at Chinese restaurants. They are the most environmentally friendly option but are not as sturdy as other materials. They can retain warm temperatures but shouldn’t be trusted for cold menu products. This is because they repel the grease found in warmer products but do not repel heavy condensation or moisture. They become soggy when cold foods melt.

Sugarcane or bagasse containers are ideal for foodservice operations seeking to position themselves as an environmentally friendly brand. They are completely biodegradable. Microwave and freezer safe, they are extremely durable. Their biggest drawback is that they must be recycled through a specific process, only compostable through specific composting facilities. This makes them the most expensive option.

Based on their pros and cons, we leave it to your discretion to know which material is best for your foodservice application.

Questions?

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